Mist&CloudsInHomer'sIliad 2001.pdf

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In the historical tradition of the western scholarly community, it has generally been the case
that even to consider fleetingly, let alone to frame questions concerning “true” geography or “true”
history in terms of the Homeric texts, is to incur instant and lasting ridicule; for the scholarly
community still looks upon Homer's "world" with condescension and indulgence. *On a positive
note, however, the French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss (1974:236), at least acknowledges
the difficulty relative to the academe’s profound distain for what it considers mythic history: “De
quelque manière qu’on envisage les mythes, ils semblent se réduire tous à un jeu gratuit, ou à une
forme grossière de spéculation philosophique. Pour comprendre ce qu’est un mythe, n’avons-nous
donc le choix qu’entre la platitude et le sophisme?”* Walter Otto (1954:4), in his study on the
Homeric gods, describes this situation in the following terms:
[The Homeric Age] is the period where belief in the gods was maintained with the liveliest
conviction; and it is precisely here that conceptions of the divine have so little capacity to
touch the heart of modern man directly that many critics have denied them any religious
content whatever. [...] Consider Homer, who is the prime object of the charge. We admire
not only the art of his poems but also the richness and depth and grandeur of this thought.
Who could think of attributing superficial views on cosmic issues to a work which can still
thrill us after nearly three thousand years? And yet upon his belief in gods we bestow an
indulgent smile at best, or we explain him as a primitive-as if in a world so spiritually
mature a primitive belief would not be the greatest paradox of all.
Otto (Ibid.) concludes his interesting criticism by reminding us of a fundamental rule of
hermeneutics, one that is too often disdained by modern interpreters of ancient texts: "One may
truly wonder at the assurance with which judgment is passed upon a nation's most inspired ideas on
matters of supreme import without testing whether the position assumed produces valid insights into
an alien realm of thought.”
The Homeric texts have enjoyed surprisingly consistent interpretive treatment from modern
scholarship. That the emphasis must remain squarely on the idea that the scholarship in question is
modern, is obvious. For it is a New Thing. The Christianizing philosophers of the early Church,
unwilling to treat the Greek religious Worldview so dismissively as we moderns, admitted the truth
of the Greek Cosmology, and simply subsumed4 their many gods and reframed them in the
Christian Cosmology, which, at the end of the day, was not so very different. Thus, Maximus of
Tyre, in the late second century, in an attempt to explain Socrates’ divine guidance, will recast the
Homeric gods, by which, he argues, “Homer had meant divine powers, the daimones which
accompany virtuous people.”5 The Christian Church, building on the familiar foundation of Homer
and Plato, is in effect establishing a familiar, and hence credible ground for its teaching of
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